Networks of Mentors

The faculty members in the Department of Architectural Engineering (AE) believe that professional development of fellow AE faculty members is everyone’s responsibility, and that each faculty member can offer support based on his or her unique perspective, experiences, and role in the department and that mentoring among the faculty works best when these activities develop, organically, spontaneously and informally. This document summarizes the academic culture within the AE department and identifies the responsibilities of the AE faculty in formalizing a culturally appropriate departmental mentoring program. 

Network Theory as Applied to Mentoring

Academic departments are networks of faculty members who possess different academic expertise and professional strengths. The departmental social networks have different connection patterns with each connection representing the flow of support, resources, and information. The strength of the connections between faculty members reflects the degree and frequency of exchange (Garland and Alestalo 2014).

Strong connections tend to be reciprocal and interdependent with a high level of trust, while weak connections tend to bring new ideas and access to new resources. Strong participation in the departmental social network is essential for the faculty to embrace the mission, culture, and norms of the department. Past research has shown that embeddedness in a departmental social network is an indicator of higher levels of faculty retention, professional advancement, and career satisfaction (Blickle et al. 2009).

In addition to participating in the AE department’s social network, each AE faculty member must establish a diverse web of connections within the College of Engineering, Penn State, and beyond to ensure professional visibility and access to human capital, information, and other resources available on and off campus. Such diversity in connections also presents a conduit of new, innovative ideas and collaborations in research, education, and service (Kram and Higgins 2008). 

Mentoring of All AE Faculty Members

The responsibility of each AE faculty member to the departmental community is commensurate with his or her position, expertise, experiences, and role in the department. As an example, a senior faculty member of the department could review the dossier of an untenured faculty member and provide a critical assessment of the activities in terms of number and quality of proposal/paper submissions, teaching evaluations, and graduate student progress. Similarly, a mid-career faculty member who has a stellar teaching record would be in a suitable position to provide guidance to a more senior faculty member who wishes to further improve his or her teaching. A junior faculty member who has completed a post-doctoral fellowship at a national laboratory can serve as a conduit for a mid-career faculty member to meet with potential collaborators. All faculty members, regardless of their rank, could serve as “onboarding mentors” to faculty members who are just starting in the department. Our departmental culture expects each faculty member to fully commit to supporting other AE faculty members to the best of his or her capabilities.

Onboarding of New AE Faculty Members: The First Year Experience

In the AE department, it is the responsibility of everyone in the department (including fellow AE faculty, staff, and students) to onboard junior faculty in exploring the institutional, school, and departmental culture (i.e., what is valued? what is rewarded?).  Given this department level welcoming culture, mentoring, networking or collaboration relationships are expected to develop naturally.  In the first year for a faculty member, Sez Atamturktur, Harry and Arlene Schell Professor and department head, and Kevin Parfitt, professor, will regularly check with the new faculty and monitor how well the new faculty is transitioning to Penn State.

In addition, new faculty members will be provided with formal support in their first year. Within the first month of their first semester, new faculty members will be asked to nominate one primary and one alternate onboarding mentor. Within a week, the department head will verify the nominees’ availability and suitability to serve. Onboarding mentorship is a prestigious one-year appointment that will be considered part of an AE faculty member’s departmental service.  

The onboarding mentors and the new faculty members will be expected to be in regular contact during the first year of the new faculty members’ hire. By the end of the first year, the formal onboarding process of the faculty will be over and the new faculty members will be asked to assess and develop their social networks like the rest of the faculty members. The new faculty members’ and their onboarding mentors’ experiences will be assessed by the department head and included in annual evaluations. 

Responsibilities of the AE Department

The AE department will provide an up-to-date faculty guidebook that clearly articulates department policies (e.g., the P&T process) and resources available to all faculty members by August of every year. In conjunction with college- and university-level resources, the department will provide professional development opportunities for new faculty members. The department head, AE faculty, as well as external consultants, will support research development for all faculty members. Specifically, the department will: 

  1. provide a faculty lounge area in Engineering Unit A to be used for spontaneous, as well as scheduled, academic interactions among faculty and post-doctoral fellows;
  2. share progress updates and success stories with the faculty to encourage engagement;
  3. sponsor monthly lunch meetings, called Research Spotlights in AE, to strategize department level research development efforts;
  4. provide support for faculty members to invite distinguished scholars who may become collaborators for AE faculty and serve as outside evaluators for AE faculty (e.g. for evaluations regarding tenure, promotion, award nominations);
  5. help faculty members target professional activities to increase their visibility in their profession; and
  6. help faculty members develop large-scale proposals. During each AE Industrial and Professional Advisory Council meeting, the department will feature four AE faculty members to provide networking potential and feedback on their research/teaching directions. Every new faculty member will be featured at the first opportunity. 

Best Practices and Suggested Activities by the AE Faculty

  1. All AE faculty may assist each other in proposal writing by offering to review proposals, serving as a sounding board for new ideas, and writing joint proposals when possible.
  2. All AE faculty should make sure the community is aware of fellow AE faculty’s work by introducing them to visitors or mentioning them in presentations at other institutions/funding agencies, when appropriate.
  3. All AE faculty may provide informal teaching advice by volunteering to attend each other’s classes.
  4. The AE faculty should ask about and encourage accomplishments and provide constructive criticism and feedback.
  5. All AE faculty should share knowledge of important university and professional events that should be attended by their mentees. 

References

Garland, M. and Alestalo, S. (2014). Faculty Mentoring in a Networked World. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University.

Blickle, G., Witzki, A.H., and Schneider, P. B. (2009). Mentoring support and power: A three year predictive field study on protégé networking and career success, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Volume 74, Issue 2, Pages 181-189.

Kram, K. E. and Higgins M. C. (2008). A new approach to mentoring, The Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2008.

 
 

About

Widely acknowledged as one of the top Architectural Engineering programs in the world, the Penn State AE Department is dedicated to providing outstanding academic excellence to all of our students. The AE program is focused on preparing students and conducting research in the design, engineering, and construction of building projects.

Department of Architectural Engineering

104 Engineering Unit A

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-6394